The man was sitting in the white hospital room.
It was already early morning, and only he, the nurse, and the young patient lying motionless on the bed were present.
The man looked through the window.
It was snowing.
He slowly looked down at the sleeping girl, realizing what had happened.
She wasn't breathing.
'I see…' he mumbled to himself as he carefully let go of the girl's still warm hand.
It was over.
Meanwhile, in another room of the same hospital
'There we go!' the nurse smiled. 'A wonderful baby girl!'
The woman lying in the hospital bed quickly caught her breath, then asked to hold her newborn daughter.
Her husband was looking at them, smiling.
'There she is… Our wonderful girl…' the man said, still unable to believe his eyes.
'How're you going to name her?' the nurse asked.
The woman looked deep into the baby's eyes.
It was as if she was staring inside her soul to find the perfect name.
And she finally did.
'Kana?' the husband asked. 'Are you sure, sweetheart? We haven't discussed this!'
'Yes…' the woman smiled. 'That's it. Kana… Her name is Kana…'
16 years later
Kana woke up and rubbed her eyes.
Still drowsy, she got up and went to the bathroom to wash and awaken completely.
Then, after preparing for school, the girl went to the kitchen and greeted her parents.
Her father, as always, was checking the morning paper while her mother was preparing the breakfast.
'Good morning!' her father looked at her. 'You're up early!'
'Good morning… Man, am I sleepy!'
'Breakfast will be ready soon, Kana!' her mother looked at her.
'Okay!' the girl said and sat on the table.
The man smiled and lowered his newspaper to look at his daughter.
'So, how did you sleep?'
Kana looked down.
Her father frowned.
The mother turned around and put a few plates on the table.
'I'm alright… I feel fine now' she smiled.
'Kana, this can't go on!' her father looked at her. 'I'm making another appointment!'
'Dad, we've been over this!' she looked him in the eye. 'I've been to three different doctors this year alone! Why do you think another one will help?'
'So what do you suggest, huh? Being in pain like that for the rest of your life? What if it gets worse?'
'Well…' Kana looked down. 'Visiting more doctors won't make a difference, Dad…'
The man sighed and looked back at his newspaper.
'Do whatever you like. It's your body, after all' he said stoically.
The teenage girl frowned and got up.
'Hey, Kana! What about your breakfast?' her mother turned around.
'I'm not hungry' the girl responded, then grabbed her bag and left the room, headed for her school.
'Damn it! How long will this continue!' the man threw the newspaper on the table in anger. 'It's been ten years now!'
'Calm down, Jin' his wife went to him.
'No! Ten years she's been in pain, and nobody can find out the cause! Nobody! Why can't those so-called "doctors" identify a disease when there are such obvious symptoms!'
The woman sat down on the table and looked at her husband.
'They all say it's psychological, but…'
'Psychological my ass! Kidney pain isn't psychological! There's something wrong with our girl, damn it! And I won't rest until I find out what it is and cure her!'
The man got up and exhaled.
'Sorry… I lost it for a moment…'
Jin went to the phone.
'I met an old classmate a few days ago, he's a general surgeon. Maybe he'll be able to identify something. Maybe that's what Kana needs, an operation, right?'
'She's not going to like that, Jin'
The parents looked in each other's eyes.
'I know, but it's necessary'
'Huh? Bookstore?' Kana looked at the sign curiously.
'Yes, a bookstore! They opened it last week! I've been trying to tell you, but I… kept forgetting about it' her friend responded and blushed slightly.
'Oh…' the girl carefully examined the small shop with her eyes, trying to deduce whether or not it was worth her attention.
'Well, if you want, you can check it out! I have to meet somebody soon anyway, so we won't be able to walk home together'
'Oh, I see… Well… Sure, why not! I'll check it out!' Kana smiled. 'Thanks for showing me!'
'No problem! See you at school tomorrow, right?'
'Yeah! Bye, Mika!'
'Bye!' The girl waved and ran along.
Kana looked at the bookstore again.
"Well… It won't hurt if I just take a look at what they have…" she thought and slowly stepped towards the door, then pushed it open.
The inside of the shop consisted of a relatively small room filled with books from top to bottom.
There were bookshelves all across the walls, cramped with all sorts of books.
There were several smaller bookshelves on the floor, which, too, didn't lack reading material.
And, in the corner, sitting behind the desk was the shopkeeper, reading and not paying any attention to his customer.
'Uhm… Excuse me…' the girl said and looked at him.
'You need something?' the man answered, not even bothering to look back.
It wasn't like she really needed something, but she wasn't used to being treated like that.
'Thought so' the shopkeeper kept talking. 'If you wanna buy something, bring it over here, if not, then keep looking all you want, but don't bother me!'
'What? How dare you speak so rudely to me? I'm a customer!' the girl shouted angrily.
'Yeah, yeah, whatever…'
The man's reluctance to even acknowledge her as anything more than a nuisance was causing her blood to boil.
'If you won't even look at me, then I'm leaving!'
'Sure, go right ahead. A girl your age probably has nothing to do in a shop like this anyway'
'WHAT? Are you implying that I'm stupid?'
'Interpret it however you like'
'How dare you? I've read a lot of books, you know!'
'Yeah, I bet… "Harry Potter", wasn't it?'
'That's not the only thing I read, and… Look at me while I'm speaking to you!'
The man sighed and closed his book.
'Gah, do you still insist on wasting my time? Why do you…'
Suddenly, he dropped his book on the ground and stood motionless for a few seconds, staring at his customer.
'No… Impossible…' he mumbled.
'Huh? Did you say something?'
'You… Who are you?'
'Eh? What's with you, all the sudden?'
The man didn't respond.
He just kept staring at the girl as if he'd seen a ghost.
'Do we know each other? Mister?'
The man sighed and looked back down, then picked his book.
'No. It's nothing'
'What the… What's wrong with you, Mister?'
'I already said it's nothing, didn't I? I just… mistook you for someone, that's all'
'Eh? Do you really expect me to believe that?'
'Well, it's the truth'
'You're crazy, old man!'
The shopkeeper smirked.
'Maybe I am'
Kana shook with anger.
'You know what? I don't have to take this from you! I'm leaving'
'Yeah… Go right ahead' the man crouched to pick up his book, then sat back on his chair and opened it.
The girl turned around and angrily started walking towards the exit.
"How dares he? Talking to me like that! Who does he think he is?" passed through her mind as she was trying to open the heavy door. "Calling me stupid! How dares he? How da…"
'Hm?' the man looked at her again. 'You need something else?'
'Gh… It's… It's nothing… I'm leaving…'
"Damn it, why now? Not now! Not here!"
Suddenly, Kana started to shake. Cold sweat formed on her forehead, and her eyes started to black out.
'You… Hey! What's wrong?' the shopkeeper got up.
And then, the pain came.
The sharp pain in her stomach relentlessly took hold of Kana, causing her to fall on her knees.
'HEY!' the man ran to her. 'What's wrong? Should I call an ambulance?'
"No" was what the girl tried to say. Instead, what came out of her mouth was a scream from the pain.
"Why… It's never been so intense before… Why now? Why HERE?"
'Hey! HEY! Don't pass out! I'm calling an ambulance!' the man reached for the phone on his desk.
'N-no… I'm… fine…'
'You don't look fine to me!'
'Please…' she begged of him right before the pain took the best of her.
Slowly, Kana lost consciousness.
'Damn it! Why… Don't tell me…' the shopkeeper looked at her, then sighed. 'Guess it can't be helped then'
Kana slowly opened her eyes and looked around.
Surprisingly, she wasn't at the hospital.
The girl was obviously in someone's house. A stranger's house, as she'd never been there before in her life.
She rubbed her eyes and stood up, then got out of the bed and looked around.
From what she could tell, she was on the second floor of a building.
The room was relatively big, and Kana guessed it was one of those apartments with only one room.
Despite that (or maybe because of it) the place was extremely tidy.
The hundreds of books in the bookcase were ordered perfectly, the carpet looked brand new, and the TV sitting on a small shelf was aligned towards the bed with extreme precision.
However, despite being extremely ordered, the apartment had nothing out of the ordinary.
Kana noticed a few pictures framed on the wall, so she went to them to examine them, hoping they'd show her who this house belonged to.
On the first framed picture was a young boy, maybe in his teenager years. He wore a robe not unlike those of graduating students.
"Hmm… He kind of looks like the shopkeeper from the bookstore!" the girl noted, further confirming her assumptions that this was, indeed, his house.
On the next photo was the very same boy, and at the same age, too.
He was dressed casually and was holding a girl's shoulder, smiling kindly.
"That girl… Oh my God!"
Suddenly, Kana screamed.
'Hey! What's wrong?' the shopkeeper came running from downstairs.
'That…. That…' Kana was shaking. 'WHO IS THAT? THAT'S ME, THAT'S… I know it's not me, but it is! She…. She…'
The man sighed.
'I was… hoping you wouldn't notice that before you woke up… I would have removed it, but the frame's bolted to the wall…'
'THAT… THAT… WHO IS THAT?'
'Calm down, Kana'
'YOU!' she turned around. 'HOW DO YOU KNOW MY NAME? WHAT IS THIS PLACE? WHY AREN'T I IN THE HOSPITAL?'
'Oh, snap out of it already!' the shopkeeper said, kind of annoyed. 'You're here because you asked me not to call an ambulance, and you fell asleep before I could convince you otherwise! And your name's written on your bag, right there!'
The man pointed to the girl's backpack, which indeed bore the kanji spelling "Kana".
'And… And what about the girl in the picture! She looks just like me!'
'Yeah, now you know who I mistook you for back at the shop…' the man grinned. 'What, don't you believe in doubles?'
'Someone once told me everyone has a double somewhere in the world. Guess that's yours right there'
Kana calmed down from her initial shock, then sat down on the bed.
'She… She looks just like me… Not merely resemble… JUST like me!'
'Yeah, freaky, huh?'
'Who is she?'
The shopkeeper smiled.
'You're asking too many questions'
'Why won't you tell me?'
'It's none of your business'
'Now, how about you answer some of my questions?'
'Like I have a choice… You're gonna call my parents, right?'
'That goes without saying'
The girl sighed.
'What do you want to know?'
'First of all, what the hell happened back then? You seemed like you were about to die, and now after an hour of sleep you're totally fine. What was up with that?'
The teenager looked down.
'I… have no idea. It's been like this since I was six years old. I'm totally fine, and then suddenly, bam, my stomach starts hurting'
'Yeah. The doctor says it's actually the kidneys that hurt, but I feel the pain in the front…'
'The kidneys, you say?' the shopkeeper asked, pretty surprised by this revelation.
'Nothing… Keep on'
'Recently, though… It's getting worse. I've been visiting doctors since I was a child, but that's the weird part – nobody can find out what's wrong with me!'
'You don't say…'
'Yeah! They say my body's totally healthy! Even though something's clearly off! They did X-Rays, CT scans, ultrasound, anything you can possibly think of, and nothing!'
'That's… pretty odd'
'Oh really? Do tell!'
The man scratched his chin and thought about the whole thing for a second.
'So… recently it's getting worse?'
'Yeah… When I was a kid, I… held on. The worst was when I was little, like… 8-9 years old. I was sick all the time, and not just pain, too! I was physically sick, throwing up all the time, exhaustion, stuff like that. It was a miracle I survived that!'
'And then I entered middle school, and… it went away for a while. Aside from the occasional episode of pain, I was feeling fine. I thought it'd gone away, but…'
A tear appeared in the corner of Kana's eye, which she quickly cleaned off.
'I had to spend my 15th birthday in the hospital. It was pretty bad. Doctors said it was a miracle I even lived through it'
'A very bad crisis. My chest hurt like crazy, I… I literally felt like I was dying, you know? Even now my heart's pretty weak… They warned me that another attack like that and I'm gone for sure'
'And they still haven't discovered the cause?'
'No… Nothing… I didn't even know that was possible'
The man stood there motionless for a few seconds, assimilating the information he was just given.
'Do you always lose consciousness during an attack?'
'Well… About that…' Kana looked at the shopkeeper with shaking eyes, as if she was just about to cry. 'That's the first time… Even when I turned 15 it wasn't THAT bad…'
'Then, if it was THIS bad, then why didn't you allow me to call an ambulance?'
'If the doctor saw me like this… He'd want me to be committed… again… And there's no need! I'm fine, see?'
'Hm… You do look alright, but…'
'I'm okay! When the crisis passes, I'm all better! It's just momentary'
The shopkeeper sighed and went to the stairs.
'Hey! Where are you going?'
'To call your parents, where else?'
'Wait!' she yelled.
'Huh? What is it?'
'What's your name?'
'Oh, are you starting with the questions again?'
'I answered everything you asked me!'
'You didn't have to, that was your choice!'
'Huh… But that's not fair!'
'Life isn't fair, kid'
The shopkeeper laughed.
'My name is Takamichi Todo'
He turned around.
'What? What was that?'
'Can I call you Taka? It sounds cuter than Takamichi!'
'Knock yourself out…'
'Huh?' the shopkeeper looked at the girl at the door. 'Oh, it's you again'
'Yeah, I'm glad to see you too! My mom sent me to give you this!'
'Eh?' Taka looked at her.
Inside her hands was a potted plant.
'Yup! She grew it herself! It's a thank you gift… you know, for taking care of me'
The man sighed.
'I already have a plant… Didn't you see it?'
'Well, plants are something you can't have too much of!' Kana laughed and placed the pot on the floor.
'Yeah, I guess… Give her my thanks for me'
Taka closed his book.
'Hey… How are you?'
'Oh, me? Well… I have been better… I got an attack in the middle of the night, but it was nothing serious…'
'Wow… Are they THAT often?'
'Lately, yeah. The night before I came here I got another one, too…'
'Should you really be out like this? What if it happens in the middle of the street?'
'I'll think of something!' Kana smiled.
'Sure you will… Hey, will you look at that! It's lunch break!'
The girl frowned.
'Fine, I get it, I'm leaving!'
"That wasn't what I meant, but… Ah, screw it…"
'Would you like to join me for a tea upstairs?'
The girl gasped.
'What the… Who are you and what did you do to Taka?'
'I know you too well, and you'd NEVER invite me like that!'
'We met yesterday, Kana'
'We… We did? That's… That's weird… Why do I get the impression that… I've known you for a long time?'
'My offer's only valid until the end of the lunch break. Which is… in 18 minutes'
'Alright, alright, I'm coming!' Kana laughed and followed Taka upstairs.
'So…' the girl took a sip of her green tea, 'Ready to tell me who she is?'
'Will you ever be?'
'Can I get a positive answer from you for once?'
Kana slowly put her tea on the table.
'How… DARE you mock me?' she yelled.
Taka burst out laughing, and the girl quickly followed him.
'Why are you so interested in her, anyway?'
'Well…' Kana thought. 'Aside from the fact that she's my clone… maybe I'm a little bit curious about… you'
'Mhm' she took a sip. 'You don't look like someone who… gets around, if you know what I mean!'
'What's that supposed to mean?'
'And just so you know, I did have a very serious girlfriend once!'
'Really? Is that her?'
Taka slowly drank some tea.
'You don't like talking about her too much, do you?'
'Not really. Brings back memories I'd like to keep to myself'
Kana looked down.
'She's dead, isn't she?'
Taka did the same.
'How old was she?'
'She'd… just turned 18. She was about to enter high school… Stuff happened, and… she had to repeat a few years…'
'Wait…' Kana looked at him. 'Wait! Don't tell me… Was she sick?'
Taka started to shake.
'Chronic renal insufficiency'
'Huh… Wait… You mean…'
'No way… No way…'
'She… was feeling sick, and had to enter the hospital regularly… Otherwise her kidneys would hurt, and… before she died… she complained of chest pain too…'
'No… That's…' tears were forming in the young girl's eyes, waiting to be released by a single little push.
Taka rose his head.
His eyes were dark and serious.
'The girl in the pictures…. Her name's Kana Todo. She was my little sister'
That was it.
That was the one little push needed.
The teenager started sobbing.
'Kana… Her name was… Kana…'
'It… It can't be… It can't be…'
Taka kept silent.
'How is this… possible? We look the same, have the same name, and… The kidney problems…'
'Kana…' Taka looked at her. 'My sister's problem was discovered when she was very little. The fact that yours cannot be means that it's NOT the same... This is just a big coincidence…'
'HOW CAN YOU CALL THIS A COINCIDENCE? SHE LOOKS JUST LIKE ME!' Kana yelled. 'JUST LIKE ME! SHE'S MY TWIN!'
'My…' tears were still falling down her eyes. 'My mother has blue eyes… And my father's are black… Then why are mine green? Like hers! Just like hers?'
'Kana, calm down!'
'YOU WANT ME TO CALM DOWN? I'm… You just told me I'm going to die!'
'It's nothing like that!'
'IT IS! It can't be otherwise!'
Kana fell on the ground and grabbed her chest.
'Oh… Oh God…
'Kana!' Taka jumped.
'It hurts! It hurts!' the girl screamed.
'My, my! Déjà vu doesn't even BEGIN to describe what I'm feeling now!' the nurse smiled, trying to raise the mood.
'Miki, stop goofing around! How's she?'
The nurse suddenly turned serious.
'I don't know'
'The symptoms she exhibits… There's no doubt about it, they completely match Kana's symptoms. But not only that…'
'Wait, lemme guess… They match the symptoms from right before she…'
Taka looked at the ground, then back at the nurse.
'Hey, Miki… Was this attack serious?'
'What do you…'
'Kana told me that when she turned 15 she got a severe chest pain, and the doctor told her she wouldn't make it if it happened again! Will she make it, Miki?'
'I… I don't know… This is far too weird… I mean, she looks just like her… And the same symptoms too… Only difference is that we can't find what's causing them…'
'DAMN IT! It's all my fault!'
'What are you talking about?'
'I caused that attack… I told her about Kana, and… she freaked out'
'Taka, I think there's something you should know' Miki said and gave him a piece of paper.
'Eh? What's that?'
'A few of the lab results?'
'How do you expect me to make sense of all this?'
'Basically… She was under stress for the last few months'
'Yes. And it finally escalated today and brought about her attack'
'But what could possibly cause her stress? She seemed so cheerful every time I met her!'
'Some people hide their pain well…' Miki said, saddened.
'Do you think she might have had problems at home?'
'It's likely, yes… I'm going to ask the parents when they get here'
Taka looked down.
'Can I see her?'
'Sure, if you want to, but she's sleeping'
'That's alright. I'm just going to stay with her until her parents arrive. I don't want to leave her alone'
'Taka, I know she looks like her, but she is not your sister! You don't have to do this!'
'Yeah, I get it. Don't worry'
'Huh?' Taka looked at the two teenage girls walking by him in the hospital hallway.
"Don't tell me…"
Quickly, the man went to Kana's hospital room and opened the door.
Kana was sitting on the bed, awake and smiling, and waved at him.
'Hey' he smiled again. 'I brought you some flowers'
'Thanks! They're beautiful!' she smiled widely.
Taka looked around and saw a big vase that was already quite full with flowers.
'Did your friends bring you these?'
'Huh? Oh, yeah! They came to see me just now! Cute, right?' Kana giggled.
Taka thought about it for a few seconds while trying to fit his own bouquet in the vase, then burst out in laughter.
'What? What is it?'
'Oh, nothing, it's just… Well, it doesn't matter'
'Oh, come on! Tell me already!'
'Nah, it's really nothing. I'm just… glad your friends visited, that's all'
'Huh? Well… yeah…'
'Aha!' Taka finally fitted the flowers in. 'How's that?'
'Looks good! Too bad I'll have to throw them away. I can't change the water with them blocking it'
'What? Oh, uhm… Well… I guess that's…'
Now, it was Kana's turn to burst out into laughter.
'Gotcha! You should've seen your face!'
'Gah! Damn it, Kana!'
Taka left Kana laughing for a few moments, then sat on a chair next to her bed.
'And you? How're you feeling?'
'Oh! I'm a little exhausted, but otherwise, I feel great!'
'Glad to hear it. What did the doctor say? When will you be able to leave?'
'Yeah… He says I should stay here in case another attack occurs… He's not sure when I get to leave… And, knowing my dad, he'll probably want me to stay here as long as possible…'
'He's overprotective, huh?'
'You know he's doing this for your own good, right?'
'I know, I know… But he's just so… Ah…'
Taka turned around.
'Grr… Headache… Now that on top of everything else…'
The man smiled.
'I'm gonna go. I think you should get some rest'
Kana smiled back.
'Yeah… Thanks… For everything'
'No problem. I'll come to visit you again when I can, alright?'
'Sure! I'd love that!'
'It's decided then' Taka nodded. 'By the way, is there something you need, like a book maybe? I've got a ton of them in the shop, so if you have something in particular you'd like to read…'
'Well will you look at that!' Kana laughed. 'Wasn't I too stupid for books?'
'Oh, come on! Tell me one teenage girl you know that's actively interested in reading!'
She raised her hand.
The man sighed.
'Alright… Anything you'd like in particular?'
'Hmm, I don't think so… Pick one for me, alright?'
'Sure… Where did that interest in reading come from, anyway?'
Kana started thinking.
'You know, now that you mentioned it… I have no idea! It just feels… natural, you know? First started when I was about six years old, and ever since then I've read a ton of books'
'Six years old, huh… Can it probably be related to… your attacks?'
'It's related to the fact that I learned how to read then' Kana laughed. 'You're thinking too hard!'
'Yeah, I guess I am. Well, bye now'
'Bye!' the girl waved and lied down.
Taka opened the door and left, then promptly closed it behind him.
'Wow! Watch out!' a man yelled. 'You almost hit me!'
'Sorry' Taka said and smiled politely, then started to walk away.
'Wait a second! You're that… Todo-san, right?'
'Huh?' Taka turned around. 'Do I know you?'
'No, but I know you' the man smiled and gave his hand. 'Jin Takano. I'm Kana's father'
'Oh…' Taka took it. 'Are you here to visit her?'
'Yeah. Got some time off work just to come… But first, do you mind if I have a word with you?'
'Are you sure that's alright? You can't be here all day, after all, and…'
'It's alright, it'll only take a second' Jin smiled.
'Well, if that's what you want' Taka agreed and pointed at a nearby bench.
The two of them sat on it.
'Todo-san… I need to tell you something. Ever since she met you a few days ago, Kana has been talking about you all the time'
'Is that so?' Taka scratched his head. 'I don't know why, I'm not that interesting of a person…'
'That's not the point here. The point is that she was… obsessed with you. At least, that's how I see it. Pretty strange for someone she's known just recently, right?'
'I don't get what…'
'Then, let me ask you something. Why do you visit her, even though she's a total stranger to you?'
'Sir, if you're implying something just say it out loud'
'Oh, no, nothing like that!' Jin smiled. 'Now that I can speak with you, I see that you are a good person'
'I'm not implying anything, Todo-san. That was a genuine question' the father smiled.
'Eh… Well… Now that you mention it… I don't really know. Just feels… natural to look after her'
'Is that so…'
'Yeah…' Taka looked down. 'Long time ago, I had a sick little sister, and I took care of her in the hospital. Guess old habits die hard, eh?'
'If it's an inconvenience to you, then I will not visit her anymo—'
'No, please, nothing like that!' Jin grinned. 'In fact, I'd ask for quite the opposite of you, Todo-san. If it's not a problem for YOU, of course!'
Taka smiled back.
'No, not at all. I'd love to'
The father turned his head around and looked at the ceiling.
'Hey, Todo-san… Do you believe in fate?'
'What's that all of a sudden?'
'Please, tell me'
'Hmm… I believe that fate can be changed… even if it's not a very big change…'
'Well, personally, I'm not very into this whole "fate" thing… Mysticism isn't my thing. I'm a realist, and I try to act like one'
'However, in this case… I think it was fate that brought you two together'
A few seconds of awkward silence.
'Yes… Even if you only just met, you have a bond between you… As if you'd known each other your whole life'
'I also think there's a reason you two met just now… Maybe you're here to help her with her condition'
'Do you really believe that?'
Jin smiled sadly.
'As I said before, I'm a realist. However, when my little girl is in a hospital and a dozen doctors can't find anything irregular with her body… Well, I'm ready to believe in just about anything, as long as it helps Kana. So please… Keep visiting her'
'I will. It's a promise'
1 week later
Taka froze in place.
'How… How serious was it?'
'Very. She was screaming in pain before she lost consciousness. Her heart gave out. We barely brought her back'
The man was shaking.
'She's stable. She's been sleeping for a few hours now. She should wake up soon'
Taka looked at the nurse.
'Miki… What does this mean?'
'Her heart is weakening. Every attack gets bigger and bigger. The next time it happens… She…'
'She won't make it…'
'Yes…' the nurse looked at the ground. 'Her heart is too weak. The problem's somewhere deep, whatever it is. Even if we find a transplant for her heart and kidneys, it won't solve anything'
'But then… Does that mean that…' Taka was barely able to hold his tears back.
'Yes… Kana is dying'
Both of them immediately turned to the door.
Without hesitation, Taka opened it and entered.
Inside were a broken vase… and a broken girl.
Taka looked at her.
Tears were falling down Kana's cheeks.
'W… What do you… What do you mean… D-dying… I'm going to…'
The man looked down.
The girl had overheard the only conversation she was never supposed to know about.
'It's true… Isn't it… I'm dying… I'm… I'm…'
Taka kneeled down and hugged the crying girl.
She hugged him back and started weeping sadly.
Taka was sitting on the bench just outside of Kana's room, looking at the ceiling.
Slowly, the door opened, and nurse Miki came out of it quietly.
'How is she?' Taka asked.
'Sleeping. Gave her a dose of morphine for the pain… both the physical and psychological one'
'So… What you said was true, wasn't it? She really is dying?'
'Yeah… Taka, I'm so sorry you have to go through this again…'
'Don't be. It's far more painful for her than it is for me'
A few moments of silence.
'Hey, Taka… Can I ask you something?'
'Do you believe in… reincarnation?'
'Huh? What's that all of a sudden? Reincarnation?'
'Yeah, you know… How, if someone's life was unfulfilled, their soul leaves the body after death and is reborn. I read a few articles a few years back. One of them even claimed that the soul sometimes carried the memories and personality from one body to the next. I'm not sure if I believe all of that, but…'
'What's up with that? You want to tell me that…'
'Think about it, Taka! She's like a clone of your sister! Same looks, same name and… even the same symptoms'
Taka smiled sadly.
'It's not like that. They might look a lot like each other, but their personalities are completely different!'
'I'd say this is because they grew up differently, and were shaped by different people'
'You… really believe she's the reincarnation of Kana, don't you?'
'Well…' Miki blushed. 'I want to. Is that bad?'
'So… Kana's life was… unfulfilled, huh?'
The nurse jumped.
'Well… Gee, I never thought of that! But… Uhm…'
'What was it that she lacked?' Taka said, more to himself than to anyone else. 'I… I tried to be close to her, I tried… I tried to give her everything she needed… Why is her life unfulfilled?'
Miki rolled her eyes.
'Well… Maybe all she needed was a little more time with you'
'You think so?'
'I can't think of anything else' Miki got up and looked through the window. 'Your sister spent most of her life in the hospital. She never had any friends, and… Now look at her. Her friends come to visit her almost every day. A lot of kids come and go… I think that, in the past week, her entire class came to see her. Not to mention… You are right here, by her side. I think that's the life your sister wanted'
Taka started shaking.
Miki turned around.
'I'm going to call her parents. They… need to know'
4 DAYS LATER
Taka was sitting behind his desk, reading a book.
It was just something to pull his mind off of other things.
He heard the door of the shop opening, but ignored it.
'Uhm…' he heard a male voice.
'If there's anything you wanna buy, then bring it here' Taka said calmly.
'Aaaaw! That's no way to treat a customer you know!' a more girlish voice.
Taka dropped his book.
'What's up!' the girl smiled.
'Good afternoon, Todo-san!'
Taka got up.
'You're out of the hospital!'
'Thanks, Captain Obvious! Of course I'm out of the hospital! For three whole days, I can do whatever I want! Neat, huh?' Kana smiled widely.
'So, my dad promised to buy me a book, and I brought him here!'
'Alright!' Taka laughed. 'Well, pick your book. Me and your dad are going to go outside and breathe some fresh air, alright?'
'Hey, I'm not stupid, you know!' Kana frowned. 'If you want to keep secrets from me, just say so!'
'Kana, sooner or later you should learn that some conversations are not for kids'
'KIDS? I'm not a kid!'
'Please, Kana, we need to tell each other some stuff, alright?'
'Fine, whatev… Oooh, you've got manga too?' Kana went to the books.
Outside, the two men looked at each other seriously.
'Todo-san… You know why she's out of the hospital, right?'
'Yeah… How are you and your wife doing?'
'I'm… bearing it. My wife almost hasn't slept for 4 days. But it's not us you should worry about…'
The two turned around to look at the young girl happily scrolling through the pages.
'She… knows, doesn't she?' Taka asked. 'About why she's out…'
'She's a smart girl. She figured it out quickly. If I were her… I don't know how I would be able to keep on smiling'
'Kana's a strong girl. I don't know if you know, but she's in a lot more pain than she lets on… Always was'
'Truth is, Todo-san… I'm scared. I'm very scared. I don't know what I'll do without my little girl'
Taka smiled sadly.
'Takano-san… Remember when I told you about my sister?'
'Oh, yes… The one that was in the hospital, right?'
The man looked at the sky.
'Yes, she… used to be in a hospital…'
'Todo-san, you don't mean…'
'I'm trying to tell you is that I know loss, Takano-san. And I can tell you that you can deal with it in two ways – you can either move on, or you can not. I chose not to move on'
'My God, Todo-san, I never knew… How old was she when she…'
'A little older than Kana. But please, don't draw any wrong conclusions from it – I'm not viewing your daughter as a substitute or anything like that…'
'Oh, please, I haven't thought about that at all!' Jin smiled. 'It's… a sad world we live in, isn't it?'
'Yeah… A very sad world…'
A few moments of silence.
'By the way, Todo-san… Kana requested to spend the day with you. We'll be taking her to Tokyo tomorrow and she'll pass the next 2 days there. And that's why she wanted to be with you today. I hope that's not a problem…'
'Not one bit. Any ideas where I can take her?'
'I'll leave that up to you. Just don't overwork her, alright?'
'Of course. And where will you be? How can I contact you if anything happens?'
Jin took out a small business card and handed it to Taka.
'I'll be at work. My boss is… pretty scary, so I can't exactly skip it. Besides… I need to do something to keep my thoughts occupied'
'Yeah, I see…'
'Though if anything happens, don't hesitate to call me! Boss or not, I'll be right there, got it?'
'Don't worry' Taka smiled. 'I'll be sure to—'
'THERE! I want it!' Kana opened the door and held a huge set of manga volumes.
'Eh? Kana, didn't we agree on ONE book?' Jin looked at her.
'Yes, but the volumes are packaged together! It counts as one item! Right?'
The father looked at the price.
'Hmmm… This is pretty expensive… I don't think I have the money on me to buy it right now…'
'Don't worry about that. We'll arrange it later. Let her have it' Taka nodded.
'Really? I can? Thank youuuuuu!' the girl hugged the manga set.
'You have my thanks too, Todo-san. I am indebted to you in so many ways'
'As I said, don't worry about it' the man turned to Kana. 'So, I heard we'll be together today'
'So, what do you want to do?'
'Phew! Talk about a long day!' Taka exhaled. 'I'm beat'
'Yeah, me too! But, to be honest… I think this was one of the best days in my life!'
'Really? You're serious?'
'Completely serious!' Kana smiled widely.
'Are you ready to go home?'
'Not yet! I wanna do something else! I wanna go somewhere!'
'Gaaaah! My legs hurt!'
The girl looked down.
'Well, if you're tired, I can understand…'
'Well, I may be tired, but you're the guest of honor today, so… Any preferences?'
'Not quite… I just wanna go somewhere'
'Hmm… You know what? I just got an idea. I want to try something'
'Eh? What is it?'
'I want to show you something' Taka stood up. 'Come on, it's nearby!'
'Aw, stop teasing! What is it?'
'Come and you'll find out!'
Kana laughed and got up, then started following her friend.
After about 15 minutes, they finally reached a big, white house.
'Yeah. Feels familiar?'
'Actually… Yes, it does! I've been here before!'
'Let's go inside, shall we?' he said and unlocked the door.
The girl nervously went inside, then started to shake.
'This… This place… '
'You recognize it, don't you?'
'I know it! I know it! And… Here! The dining room! And…'
Kana quickly took off her shoes and went inside, then started to run towards the stairs. She climbed them as quickly as she could, then opened a door on the second floor and jumped on the bed inside.
'There… That's my room! My bed! So soft…'
'When did you live here, Kana?'
'Eh? Hey, now that you mention it… I know for a fact that I lived here, at some point… But… Maybe it was when I was a little child?'
'Kana, the place has been vacant for 15 years'
'Impossible! Look at how clean everything is!'
'Yeah, about that…' Taka looked away. 'Let's just say I like to keep it in order'
'EH? What are you…'
'This… used to be my home, a long time ago'
'WHAT? That's impossible, I've lived here too! I'm sure of it!'
'The only people living here for the past 40 years were my parents, me and… my sister'
'I didn't believe it either. But you remembered, Kana! You did!'
'I… I… I'm not her!' tears were starting to fall down her eyes.
Taka suddenly realized that bringing her to her old home probably wasn't such a good idea.
'Of course not. Nobody says that you are'
'You are your own person' Taka smiled. 'Your own personality, and your own memories. However…' the man went to the girl and tapped her on the heart. 'You also carry my sister's soul in there'
'That's right. Even if you aren't her, she's with you… guiding you'
The man turned around.
'Well, I guess that's too much of that. It's pretty late. Let's get you home, huh? You gotta be fresh for Tokyo!'
'MIKI!' Taka burst into the hospital. 'MIKI!'
'Taka…' the nurse went to him.
'What's going on? Please don't tell me…'
She looked down.
'Tonight, while on the bus from Tokyo, Kana got another attack. It wasn't a very strong one, but it was all her heart could bear. She's having trouble breathing now, and… we're expecting another attack tonight'
The man started to shake.
'Taka… I hope you know that… Kana won't make it through the night'
'Y…Yes… I know…'
'I'm sorry you have to go through that again, but she needs you. Even though she can barely talk, she called your name over and over again. I had no choice but to call you'
Miki turned around and looked in the man's eyes.
'Please… She's in enough pain as it is… Do not make it worse for her'
With this, the nurse opened the door and let the man in.
What he saw inside broke his heart.
He saw Jin holding a woman he assumed was Kana's mother. Both of them were desperately trying to fight their tears.
And on the bed was Kana herself.
She was lying motionless, with an oxygen mask on her face.
'Kana!' Miki told her gently. 'Taka is here!'
The girl slowly opened her eyes, then smiled.
'Shh, don't talk. It's me' he forced himself to smile.
'Taka…' Kana started to cry.
The man took the girl's hand.
'I'm here. I'll be with you'
'What are you being sorry about? It is I that—'
'Taka… Wanted… To be with you… I'm sorry…'
'Shh… I'm here. I'm never letting you go, you hear? You'll always be with me'
'Yes… Always… Ah…'
'What's wrong, Kana? Does it hurt?' Niki asked.
'Do you want to sleep?'
The girl shook her head.
'No… I'm scared… Ahhh… Very… scared…'
'Kana, listen to me! I'm here! I'm with you! I'm never letting you go! Never!'
'Of course I promise!'
Kana smiled again.
'Alright, I see' Miki smiled gently and picked up the syringe. Then, she slowly inserted it into Kana's IV and injected it.
'There… It'll be all better soon!'
'Yes… Mom… Dad…' Kana turned to them. 'I… love… you…'
'Kana…' Jin took her other hand.
'Taka…' the girl smiled once again. 'See you… soon… right?'
With these words, Kana closed her eyes.
Her mother immediately burst into tears.
Jin stood up and helped her on her feet.
'Todo-san… I'm going to take my wife home. I'll leave Kana to your care, alright?'
'Of course' Taka nodded.
'Long time no see, Kana!' Taka waved.
The girl sitting on the grass smiled widely and quickly closed her book.
'Bro! I… didn't recognize you. You're so big now…'
'Yeah… It's been 16 years'
Kana kept silent.
'So… You're going away again, huh?'
'I have to. I don't have a choice'
'Of course you have a choice! You can stay! With me!'
Kana smiled gently.
'No… That's not possible, bro… '
'But wasn't your unfulfilled desire to spend more time with me? Now you can! Don't go, Kana, I beg of you!'
'I do want to stay, but I can't. There is no place in this world for me'
'There's always a place. Whether in the world, or in my heart, there's always a place for you'
The girl smiled gently.
'Thank you. But I cannot stay any longer'
'Do you want to? If you do, you can always take my life! I don't want it anymore! I've lost everything!'
'I want to, but… Not at your expense. Or anyone else's'
The girl looked at her watch.
'It's time for me to go'
'Will you ever come back?'
'No, I don't think so. My biggest desire was to spend just a little more time with you. The days I spent by your side were enough. Thank you'
'I see… So that really is goodbye… Forever…'
'Forever… Goodbye, Bro'
Taka woke up and rubbed his eyes.
Taka looked at the sleeping girl and gently stroke her hair.
'Kana… Stay with me… Don't go…' he quietly whispered into her ear.
The man looked through the window.
It was snowing.
He slowly looked down at the sleeping girl, realizing what had happened.
'I see…' he mumbled to himself as he carefully let go of the girl's still warm hand.
It was over.
Taka placed the bouquet on the grave and looked at it.
'Kana… You did warn me you'd never come back. I wouldn't expect anything else than to keep your word from you'
'She warned you?'
'Yeah. In a dream I had. Said I made her happy. I hope that's the truth'
'It is the truth! There's no way it can be otherwise'
'I see… Maybe you're right. But… Since she moved on… I decided to move on as well'
'That's a good decision. There's no use living in the past, right?'
'I guess so. She wouldn't want me to continue thinking about her… At least not like that. She wouldn't want me to remember her as the girl that died… But rather, as the girl that lived a happy life'
'She's… really dead, isn't she?'
'Yeah… She is'
'I'm never going to see her again… I'll never hear her laugh, or see her smile, or meet her eyes again…'
'Oh, don't be silly! You always have me, right?'
Taka turned around and faced his companion.
'Yeah… Guess you're right… So, what do we do now?'
'What do you mean? You promised to treat me' the girl laughed.
'Oh, right, right. Well… Let's go then!'
The girl laughed and went forward.
Before following her, Taka took a last glance at the gravestone.
BELOVED DAUGHTER AND SISTER