~ kittykittyhunter ~
Black isn't a colour, it's a place. It's dark and cold and terrifying. What's worst is this: it's isolated.
When I finally opened my eyes I saw a blurry silhouette sitting on the edge of what seemed to be my bed – except my bed had never been so stiff and uncomfortable. My body felt heavy and like it was being crushed. I was covered in a light blanket as summer was still in full force.
"You're awake boy," murmured the old man.
I made to get up but he shook his head, warning against it. "What happened?" I asked. I remembered nothing. It had all been swept into the abyss. There had been balls, racquets and…
He sighed. With a start I realised that I had never seen him look so sad before. "You've been here since yesterday," he explained. "You need your rest, so just sleep for now. Besides, you're good at that – aren't you boy?"
"Yeah…" I was impressed. He'd told me what I needed to know without betraying me by speaking the words I couldn't bear to hear. It became apparent that I needed to say something more. "Yeah, I'm good at that."
"Then I'll leave you to it," he answered, rising. The mattress rose with a creak. "Sleep well."
He got to the door just as I called, "Thank you…"
I couldn't describe the look he gave me. Pity? Disappointment? Whatever it was, it made him incline his head then leave the room, closing the door behind him.
The gentle click brought stillness. So.
This was it.
I'd never cried so hard before. I buried my burning face in my pillow, wanting desperately to suffocate in that softness. My tears were acidic. Somehow, eventually, I managed to fall asleep. But my memories were back.
You've lost boy.
No one called. No one visited. I was grateful to the old man for that. A big part of me wanted to sit on the porch with only Karupin at my side. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to deal with other people just yet.
I stared at our court for hours, trying to envision myself on it. But I couldn't. Every time I wanted to kick myself and get back to work, my whole body started trembling. Then I'd sit down, biting my lip, darkness settling around me.
Looking at my trophies made me feel sick. I was sick, a couple of times. I had to stop thinking. I had to pull myself together.
My mood kept fluctuating. That made things ten times more difficult than they already were. Back at school, people were nice. They'd beam and say, "You played well, Echizen-kun! Still, maybe next time…" I had to force myself away, keep acting like I welcomed their kindness. But I couldn't see the point in lying. I hadn't played well. I'd lost without taking a single point! The match had to be cancelled and my opponent won by default! So how, how could anyone propose that I had actually achieved something by lying there, useless…
I lost the Nationals for my seniors.
And I couldn't meet the captain's eyes. I'd shattered his dreams. I'd trampled on his pride and fallen short of his expectations. He was the pillar that had cemented its foundations and reached for the sky. I was the pillar that had crumbled.
The nights were long.
I don't know what distressed me more – how much I loathed it or how much I dreaded it. I was back on courts now. I had to be, for their sake. Thankfully, the shuddering only occurred when I got home, long after I escaped their eyes. In the privacy of my room, my body recalled all its anguish, all my hurt.
They could sense that things were out of place with me. Yet, even though I knew they wanted to offer sympathy and comfort, I couldn't make things worse by letting them see me like that. And there are some things in life that cannot be explained, some experiences that cannot be shared, even if that is what people say they would prefer. People assure one another that they'll be of assistance in the hardest times. But –
They didn't have the dreams.
Dreams where I was crashing and slipping without direction, falling through obscurity into a deeper bleakness, wandering like a small, lost child that was still learning how to stand. Dreams where I was floundering… where everything I had ever known or cherished gradually faded, buried in something I could no longer touch.
That was what I saw when I closed my eyes. That was what I breathed when on a tennis court.
Was it right? Destroying people because we could. Stealing their talent, proving our superiority by creating openings to spit on their weaknesses. Building ourselves as noble and strong, when in truth, we were rotten inside.
I found tennis disgusting.
I woke up one night and panicked. It was far too quiet and my room was too dark. I was numb. I couldn't feel anything! What was going on? I sat up – at least, I thought I did. I couldn't be sure. Where was I? Was I really in my room?
Was I awake or dreaming? Was this a nightmare?
Was I even alive?
The light came on in a flare of hot brightness and my mother was holding me and I was crying all over again and I wasn't dead instead I was alive and it was horrible and I hated it.
I must have fallen asleep in her arms because I woke up to sunlight. Beautiful, warm sunlight. After breakfast, when I asked my cousin to explain what had happened, she told me that everyone had heard me screaming. For some reason, I hadn't heard myself.
You've lost boy.
It was everywhere.
You've lost boy.
Everywhere! Those words trickled down in a harmonious symphony until I fastened the tap so tightly that not a single drop fell. Dogs would bark it at odd hours, repeating themselves over and over. You've lost boy! You've lost boy! I reminded Karupin that I preferred cats and that I always have and I always will. Someone – I don't know who – knocked on the front door, their loud knuckles rapping that same refrain. You've lost boy. I couldn't get away from it.
"Alright!" I snapped at myself finally. "I lost! Shut up! I'm over it!"
And I was – for all of two seconds. But I could see their broken expressions, their eyes wounded with unspoken resentment. I had been the cause of that.
Wouldn't this end? I was a winner usually, fine. This time, I was a loser. This once. Wasn't that okay?
No. It wasn't okay. It couldn't be. I thought of all those people who had pushed themselves to the limit in order to see me flourish and succeed. They had longed for me to change the world. Yet, I had become the fruitless summation of their efforts. I owed them deep apologies. Our team. Sanada-san. Atobe-san. Despite everything, I hadn't been able to do that one last thing I needed to do.
This couldn't go on.
The afternoon was lazy and as usual, quiet. He was standing in my favourite spot when I approached him.
I took his arm. He looked down at me, surprised. "Dad," I urged. I hadn't used that word in a long time. I'm not sure if I ever said it at all. His eyes widened a fraction. "Dad, what's going on? What's wrong with me?"
He answered instantly, taking my shoulders. It was my turn to look surprised. "Nothing's wrong with you," he growled, "nothing. This is one set back. There'll be others. You'll feel worse. So what! Times like this pass. You're my son, Ryoma. And I will always be proud of you, no matter how many damn trophies and medals you miss out on. Do you understand?"
His stubble felt bristly when I embraced him, but I really couldn't care less.
The Forest of Arenas is huge, especially after hours. The Finals' Court seemed to be more proportional than I remembered it, like a regular court in a big place instead of the vast, endless plain I remembered.
My heart was thudding against my ribcage as I went and lay down. It was… strange. My arms and legs were spread-eagled. It was the figure of a broken player, but for the first time in what felt like years, I was piecing myself back together.
I imagined the stars up there, far away yet reachable.
"No," I whispered to myself, "not yet."