This was inspired by a play in one act called "Yesterday" by Colin Campbell Clements. I thought AsuKure was an appropriate way to end the collection, because it embraces the idea of love, even with death, and that there's always something we leave behind, so we don't have to fear an end.
Off the street of a busy city sat a secluded bus stop, an urban nook. Almost hidden by the fingerprints, fog, and the dried remainder of a rainstorm, was a long, uncomfortable wooden bench, chipped and carved. How an old lady, of about sixty, came to be in such a place was almost indecent, but she emerged from the sidewalk and came walking towards the bench.
She sank down on the bench and closed her eyes, weary. Her face was pale, wrinkles stretching what used to be porcelain and smooth. Her long hair, lost of color, was sleek, and a dark grey. Age heavily burdening her, like her shadow hanging around and nagging her about death, whispering a reminder in her ear at all times, she placed her hands in her lap and waited patiently, observing the graffiti around her as if amused.
"Oh, dear…" she said, a sigh in her voice, which sat, quivering, at the top of her throat, ready to escape. "How things have changed. How absurd."
Her thoughts, whatever they were, were soon interrupted when an immaculately groomed old man in a suit came walking in the bus stop, letting the stained door slide shut with a bang behind him, causing the glass surrounding them to shudder.
"Annoying…" he grumbled. "What has the world come –" He paused when he saw the lady, and straightened himself immediately. "Oh, sorry...I thought I was alone."
She watched him with crimson eyes. While any normal person would be disturbed, and simply accept the apology and ignore this stranger, she was curious. Interested. "You were referring to the wedding?"
He blinked, surprised, then noticed the black dress fitting her tiny, bony figure, the knitted, cotton jacket around her shoulders.
"Ah! You went to the Nara wedding as well."
"Shikamaru and Temari," she said, smiling fondly. "I never would have guessed."
"Yes, yes. I taught the boy, you know," the man said with a smile. "I was his teacher. Didn't know he had it in him, let's say."
The lady laughed, and it was a sad sound. Shaky, and almost like a cough. "Yes. I know him from his mother, who I'm good friends with. He was always so lazy. And he got someone so…"
"Quirky," the man finished for her with a chuckle.
"Yes, very." They watched each other, and at the same time both seemed to realize what they were there for again. "Oh, why don't you sit down?"
"'Course. Thank you." He did so, but not too close, respecting their unfamiliarity. But not any discomfort. There was none. To them, it was as if they'd known each other for a while.
"Ah…" he said, with the sigh of a man that had just set down a glass of water. "I really did think I would be the only one to take the bus home from a wedding. Thought it was rather pathetic at first."
"Is that what you were so contemptuous about when you first arrived?" she asked. Her face was emotionless, but mirth was there.
"No, no…" he said, clearing his throat almost brutishly. "The wedding was, at least, slightly ceremonial. But the dancing…Lord, that dancing was…"
"Well, the world changes quickly. So does the dancing."
"The world moves so fast nowadays."
"So I suppose we must keep up with the world." The lady lifted frail fingers to touch the tips of her long hair, staring out at the glass. The streetlamps clouded the stars, gleaming against the midnight black sky and reflecting in her eyes. "We have to be tolerant. Yes, we were more appropriate and…civilized when we were younger. But we're old now."
His eyes widened almost petulantly. "I'm sorry, old? I say I'm middle-aged."
She looked up out of the corners of her eyes, which twinkled kindly. "Middle-aged. Alright."
He rubbed his knee uncomfortably with a wrinkled, loosely-skinned hand. From somewhere behind the glass came the din of some modern, booming rock.
"There goes that unspeakable racket again," he grumbled. "It's awful!" He paused. "And I do admit, you're right. Times do change. But we seem to be going backward rather than forward.
"But we must accept the facts," she said wisely. She sighed. "However unfortunately…"
"I had hoped…" he said piteously, " that I would find something at this wedding that would remind me, even remotely, of my youth, but they've even changed the dancing. All this is doing is making me feel older…"
She leaned forward suddenly, interested. "That reminds me, you've been here before?"
"Yes, yes. When I was young, in my early twenties, I went right into teaching. I became a teacher at thirty one, and began teaching Shikamaru's class."
"…Ah…" she said, nodding understandably. "So why is it that you haven't been around?"
"Well, I moved," he said simply. "I was restless then. Uncomfortable with being in one place too long. I just wished…that in my return, I'd see someone…"
"Oh, yes. I was very much in love with her." He heaved a sigh, resting his elbows on his thighs, staring out at the glass with memory clouding his eyes. "Foolishly in love," he continued almost dreamily. "She was…quirky. Very sweet. And very beautiful…If I can remember…yes, long black hair, and those eyes that matched her lips. Bright red, but not bloody. No. Just lovely. She always wore that red lipstick…"
Fidgeting nervously with her hair, she said, "And you forgot about her…when you moved away?"
"Yes…that about sums it up…"
"And you married someone else?" she asked in a low, hollow voice.
"No, never," he said. "I couldn't. Actually, I didn't really feel the need, or the time."
"And…and the girl you were in love with?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "Most likely she's married, happy, and the head of a huge family. Children, a job…Everything she said she wanted. I remember she wanted to be so successful, but she never felt the thirst for freedom like I did. So when we disagreed to travel each other's ways, we broke off the whole affair. I moved away, and…" He leaned farther back and took a deep breath. "I've been content."
"And you didn't try to see her ever since you returned?"
"No, no…" he said, shaking his head and smiling. "Wouldn't that be embarrassing? I couldn't. You see, we were practically engaged…"
She leaned her shaky body to the side peculiarly. "But you left-!"
"No, no, you see I remember that I did ask her to marry me…"
She paused, teetering a bit and bracing herself with a veined hand. "And…did she accept, or decline that…offer…?"
He laughed throatily at the way she put it, and tapped his fingers on his knees absentmindedly. "Ah, I remember. She said she needed me to give her the time to 'think about it'."
"And did you?"
"No, I didn't." She winced at his bluntness. "Remember, I said I was restless. Impatient, with an awful temper. I was conceited, and my pride had been wounded. So I ran to restore it."
"Ah…you were like that at a young age?"
"Now, don't talk like I'm not young anymore. Why, Shikamaru still calls me Asuma!"
She paused, eyes widening. "…Asuma?" she asked in a small whisper.
"Yes. And as I was saying, I remember the one time I tried to contact Kurenai-"
Turning away she quickly asked, "Kurenai…?"
"Yes, Kurenai. Pretty, isn't it? I loved her name, the way it could roll off the tongue as such. And the one time I tried to contact her, just curious to see how she was doing, I realized I'd lost her address. And that she'd probably moved by then. Let alone moved on."
She cleared her throat. "And…you've never-" The music interrupted her. They both stopped to listen to it. "A slow song…" she said, and you could almost hear a sob in her throat, rising steadily. "Music brings back memories…Forty-two-years ago, I would be dancing to something a little older than this with someone's arms around me…"
"Ah, really…" he replied absentmindedly.
"Yes." She clasped her hands tightly in her lap, knuckles bulging. "Right in this city, forty-two-years ago. When I was still teaching."
"Teaching…Forty-two years ago…" He jerked around to face her. "Why, we must have known each other…then."
"Now that I think about it, what's your-?"
"Maybe we knew each other. Maybe we didn't."
"Yes…" Watching her, suddenly interested greatly with any intentions she voiced, he asked, "Well…you do like this town, don't you?"
"Yes, very much. But it's…lonely."
"Well I suspect with your…children around you, and-"
"No, no…" Her lips twitched upwards, painted bright red with her lipstick. "I never married."
"Hmm…" There was a strange zooming noise from outside, and he sighed. "And there goes that music again. Teenagers, blasting it so loud…" He glanced at her. "And you really think you could have danced to this…then?"
"Maybe if I learned how they do it now, I could do it today."
He stared at her, and after a rather awkward, rather long pause, he suddenly began to laugh. She watched him, as suddenly he stood on slightly weak legs, and held out a hand. "Would you like to try it together?"
She stared at him. The silver beard, the eyes twinkling with laughter. And she smiled, and took his hand. "Of course." She looked him in the eyes the entire time, as he helped her up and stood in front of her, looking down.
"I've seen them do it…" he said, concentrating with mirth. "You put your hands here, I put mine here…" He placed his hands on her waist, she let her arms drape around his neck. "And…we move to the music, I suppose…"
"No fancy steps, of course," she said as they began to sway. "Not very complicated, such as waltzes were…"
"Yes. Then…" He watched her. She smiled up at him.
"The world moves so fast nowadays."
"So I suppose we must keep up with the world."