Just like my Hana-Kimi story, this is based of the Drama since I haven't read the manga. All characters belong to Kozueko Morimoto and of course, I make no claims to them.
The train pulled slowly into the station. The morning air was cool on this platform. Anything was cooler than where Sawada had been. His skin was dark from the sun, and his backpack had patches everywhere, attempting to keep his only testament of home together. The platform was mostly empty, and the air was moist. There was a different kind of mug here, more pollution than sand; although both could be said about Cairo.
In four years he had learned 4 new languages, but hadn't spoken his native tongue since he left. He still thought in Japanese, and that was enough. But he didn't feel very Japanese anymore. His eyes still resembled his brethren, but his skin, hair, and physique were more like those that he had lived with for the past few years.
Was this really home? A cool breeze woke him up from the daze and jetlag. His watch read 6:10 AM for Japan but that meant something closer to 9:10 PM the day before. Of course he was running on a 35 hour sleep deficit. Nothing he hadn't dealt with before, but that didn't make it pleasant. He stretched a bit and stuck his hands in his jeans, waiting for the next train to take him into his old neighborhood. His parents knew he was coming back, and even though his mother was excited to see him, he had arranged to bounce between Kuma and Uchi's until he could figure out his next moves.
Returning to Japan had so many conflicting emotions. He had been challenged in so many ways while he was away, challenged in ways that didn't involve books. School had never been a challenge, that's why he didn't pick college despite the prestigious schools his entrance exams had earned him. Sawada leaned against a concrete pillar, setting his backpack on the ground. Was this a step forward or two steps back?
The bullet train passed by heading for downtown Tokyo, and he knew the train for his old neighborhood would arrive shortly. If it was two steps back, they were leaps in the wrong direction. A contract in Western Sahara had come to him just before he found the cheapest ticket he had ever seen to Cairo and then on to Japan. And so he found himself on a plane from Dakar airport Senegal to Narita airport Japan.
He puffed a breath of air out, attempting to wake himself a little bit. A few more people were emerging from the wings, waiting for the same train. They paid him no attention, in the same way the Japanese acknowledge their southeastern Asian counterparts. He enjoyed the birth they gave him, remembering the days in high school. Japan had not changed much at all.
The train was entirely empty when it arrived, and this was of particular surprise to Sawada. A train in Tokyo always had people in it, no matter how early or late. This must be the first stop now. Japan had changed, even if it wasn't much. He occupied a seat by his preferred exit, and waited for the train to leave the station.
The countryside that flew by was what he remembered. Buildings everywhere, and a few green patches, but not many; dotted with lights that weren't quite glowing yet. The train stopped at each station, picking up more passengers and releasing a few. An older woman stepped onto the train, and looked solemnly around, finding no seat. Sawada stood up, and said please to the woman, who awkwardly smiled at him and occupied the spot. Shin wasn't sure if the high schooler would have done that. Japan itself hadn't changed much, but he had.
His station arrived, and he exited with the rush trying to get in and out. The bustle of morning Tokyo burst into his ears, a sound he had forgotten in his travels. Nothing was quite as loud as Tokyo, a constant drone of voices and movement, all around him. Almost a comfort. He set off on foot down the streets.
A bit of construction had changed his neighborhood, a few old buildings gone, a street rerouted, but almost everything looked familiar. He followed the alley he used to walk with Kuma to the ramen restaurant. It was loud inside, Kuma running behind the counter, and a few waitresses visiting tables. He didn't recognize any of them. He sat down quietly on a corner table, and a waitress approached him after a few minutes.
"Can I help you?" Her expression was friendly but busy. She tapped her foot lightly, and Shin smiled at her. This was Kuma's younger sister, but she didn't recognize him anymore.
"Only a glass of water Kumai Aya." He winked at her as she jumped in surprise. "When Kuma has time send him over here." Shin started rummaging through his bag and produced a trinket from Sierra Leone for the young girl. "This is for you."
She took hold of the trinket and examined it. A short string made it perfect for a cell phone charm, and she really liked the colors. "Are you Sawada Shin?" She asked after placing it in her pocket.
"Yes I am." He bowed toward her, and leaned back against the chair. "That's a good luck charm from Africa, take good care of it." Aya smiled brightly and bowed in return to Shin before trotting off to get his water and tell Kuma of his old friend.
Knowing he would be here for awhile, Shin watched the customers move to and fro. He was intrigued by the Japanese in a way he hadn't been before. Their speed while eating noodles, the strange way of removed kindness, and the formality of strangers. When Shin arrived in Niger almost 4 years ago, everyone had been so open; it had broken him of much of his reserved qualities, though he always retained his ability to be silent. In the process, the people he met there tapped deeply into his passion for friendship. Leaving Niger had been one of the hardest choices he had made.
He reflected, no longer paying attention to the movements of those around him. After 10 or 15 minutes Kuma came running up to his table, picked Shin up and squeezed. "My friend!" He held Shin at arms length, and smiled his ecstatic smile.
Shin smiled back at Kuma, and as Kuma released him, he went searching through his pack again. Another item emerged from the pockets. "They don't have bears in Africa, but they do have elephants, and if you aren't a bear, you would be an elephant." Shin handed the tiny wooden carving to Kuma.
Kuma gave Shin another hug, and ran back behind the counter to finish off the lunch rush. Shin sat down in his corner again. He returned to thinking about what he was doing here, what his plans could or should be. This year was nearing its end. If he wanted to, he could probably get into a university now. He could probably go to any university he wanted.
He leaned back against the chair, closing his eyes. The sound of the noodle shop faded away, and he felt his body falling toward sleep. The complete lack of sleep for the past few days and the jet lag was getting to him with a vengeance. He was used to being in bed at no later than 9 or 10 so he could be back up at 4 am to start his chores for whatever village he was staying in. His life had gone from being a challenge to get for school to being awake 5 hours before that.
His body melded with the bench, and slowly he descended into his subconscious.
The lines of the dream were hazy at first. He woke up in a house he was unfamiliar with. Outside there was a girl playing, she looked like his age, which was much younger, perhaps only 11 or 12. She twirled around and watched the birds play in a bird bath. Her dress was white, and looked like thin cotton. It was almost too large for her. Shin walked outside, and they talked together for a few minutes. She stood on a stone path beside the bird bath, surrounded by grass and garden. The words they exchanged he could not remember, but they became friends. She showed him around the garden, because though it was his house, he did not know the grounds around it. The sky was bright blue, and they spent the afternoon together until it was time for her to go home. She waved as she dashed away, promising to return the next day.
When he awoke again in the dream, they had spent many days together, and she had returned again as always. They spent the day outside and explored more of his garden. At the end of the day, when it was time for her to return home, she asked for Shin to come to her house the next day. She waved again, leaving the same way as every time before, in the same white dress. He awoke again in the dream, and the girl arrived to take him to her house.
They walked together, and though Shin did not notice anything going by, they came to stone gate, and within the grass was bright green, and there were stone paths leading in many directions. Her home was a castle, and she was a princess. He asked why she never mentioned it, and she responded that he had never asked. Together they played in the wide green grass fields of her home, and she introduced him to her two sisters, one a few years older, and the other a few years younger. At the end of the day he returned home. Many days passed in his dream, and everyday he went to their castle, and everyday he became closer to all three of the princesses. Eventually they asked him to move to the castle, and always be with them. He agreed, and together they grew, always playing in the various gardens inside. He especially enjoyed the area surrounding their cathedral. The grass was vibrant, and the paths were beautiful. The cathedral was made of dark stone and reached into the sky and almost touched it.
After a few years, when they had all grown the older sister fell ill. Slowly she stopped being able to play until finally she passed away. For the first time, Shin entered the cathedral. Inside the pews were lined tightly together, the floor boards had gaps, and it was lit by only a few candles. The aisle to the front was very narrow, and as he walked down he saw that underneath the floor was a lake. The water was dark and sparkled with the candle light. He sat down and listened to the sermon. The priest called Shin and the pall bearer to the front to carry the coffin. The pall bearer kept his hood over his face. Together they walked down the aisle, and down a set of stairs onto the lake below the floor. They carried the coffin onto a boat, small and simple with a long oar like the boats of Venice. Without speaking they crossed the lake and carried the coffin out of the cathedral and up into the hills behind the castle. All the way the pall bearer kept his face covered, and did not speak. Close to the top of the hill, the pall bearer asked Shin to stay where he was in the woods while the man continued on ahead to bury the coffin. Shin did as the man asked, and when he returned they walked together down through the hills and back onto the lake. They crossed and as Shin emerged out into the fading light of day, both of the sisters were gone. They never again played in the gardens outside the cathedral.
Shin continued to live in the castle, and though he saw the sisters, they seemed separated from him. The dream continued on, and eventually the youngest sister died. She grew sick as her oldest sister had, and eventually faded away. Shin repeated the ritual he had begun with the oldest sister, and again he followed the pall bearer up into the mountains. Again he was left behind while the pall bearer took the coffin to the grave site.
The middle sister, whom Shin had first met, he never played with again. He still lived in the castle, but everything in the castle that had been vibrant seemed dull. He would visit the cathedral occasionally, and asked if he could go to the lake again. Whoever he asked always said that there would be a day he would return, but that day had not arrived. Eventually the last sister faded away as her other sisters had. Again he entered the cathedral, carried the coffin, crossed the length of the water, and climbed into the hills. He released the coffin for the pall bearer to carry on. When the pall bearer returned and Shin prepared to return down the hill. The pall bearer stopped him. "It is time for you to see them again." The pall bearer said. Shin looked at him in confusion and the pall bearer removed his hood. The pall bearer had been the caretaker for the sisters, and he had been fond of Shin. "They did not want you to see the graves until they had all passed." The confusion Shin felt only continued. "They were all linked together, and you were the key. Follow me."
Shin followed the man higher into the hills, through trees and into a grove at the top of the hill. Everything was calm, and evenly spaced were the three graves. The pall bearer stood at the entrance to the clearing. Shin crouched in front of each of the graves, and said goodbye to each of the girls. He stood up again, and their figures appeared standing beside him. Without speaking they floated up to a platform and an ornate gate. It opened and a beautiful light flooded the sky. The girls turned and looked back at him, and it felt like they were biding farewell, if only for a time.
They disappeared into what Shin thought must be heaven. "They wanted to tell you that they would miss you, and they wish you could come with them." The pall bearer spoke once more, his voice anchoring Shin. "And that they loved you." Shin looked at the man, and felt the voices of the girls echoing through him.
Groggily Shin opened his eyes. The sounds of the noodle shop returned to his ears, and he felt his mind returning to his body. The dream was running through his mind. The strange images and sounds. The strange feeling the girls had left inside him, and how it felt like the future and the past. He looked around, and saw that the crowd had thinned out while he was sleeping. He felt unsettled and motivated to get out of the building and go find something. He didn't even know what.
The logical side of Shin was trying desperately to settle his mind, breaking apart the dream into its possible meanings. His emotional side just told him to run, there was something he needed to do that he wasn't even conscious of. Shin sat frozen, staring at his glass of water.
"You okay, Shin?" Kuma waved a hand in front of Sawada's face.
Startled out of his shock, Shin looked at Kuma for a second before fully regaining awareness. "Yeah… I'm okay Kuma." He furrowed his eyebrows, and shook his haze off. "Just pretty tired."
Kuma nodded and patted him on the shoulder. "We should get you to my apartment." Kuma pointed to the door, and grabbed a sack from the table. "And maybe some food!"
Shin nodded, and took in his surroundings for a second. His journal was lying open on his table. His pen was leaking ink, and a bag had fallen open on the ground. He assembled everything together and stuffed it into his back pack, only partially paying attention. The ink stained his fingers as he shoved it into a front pocket. He stood up on wobbling legs, and walked to the door with Kuma.
They walked through the old neighborhood, drifting around a few streets he recognized, but unsure of their final destination. "I got my own place last year." He took them down an alley and emerged on a street with apartments everywhere. "I have so many things to tell you, but most importantly I need to tell you about my girlfriend. Her name is Ami. I'm sure you remember her a little bit." Kuma glowed while he talked about her. "She is really something… we live together, but she's going to school. So I support us…" Sawada was surprised and quite proud of his friend; managing his fathers business, living on his own with a girlfriend he was crazy about and even extending his hand in friendship to someone he hadn't seen in years.
Sawada remained silent as they walked the last few blocks. While he was gone, people around him had changed; they had grown up in ways he hadn't expected. Kuma, despite his irresponsibility while younger had assembled a life he could be proud of. As they rounded the last corner, a piece of Sawada's heart came bursting into his head. There was someone he wanted and needed to see.